Out This Week
Green Room (Altitude, cert 18)
Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to his debut subjects a band of likeable punk nobodies to sustained extreme attack by a gang of neo-Nazi thugs. If it doesn’t quite suck the air out of the lungs as his brilliant Blue Ruin did, that’s because Saulnier to his credit is trying something new. Blue Ruin was an exercise in controlled, prolonged dread; in Green Room he’s seeing if he can pull the legs off the spider, re-attach them, then pull them off again. And repeat. Strangely enough he can. There are name actors here – Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots and Patrick Stewart, who underplays nicely as the big daddy Führer of this bunch of murderous miscreants. But it’s all about the creation and dissipation of fear, as the band first find themselves under attack in the “green room” of some out-of-the-way venue, then use it as a refuge, then as a base from which to launch a counter-attack, then retreat to it when the going gets bad – and so on. There is some gruesome body horror, as people get limbs broken, and craft knives, machetes and guns, as well as fire extinguishers, sticks and whatever comes to hand are pressed into use. Not for the squeamish.
The World of Kanako (Metrodome, cert 18)
Director Tetsuya Nakashima delivers a madly chaotically badass bit of fun about a very badass cop (Kôji Yakusho). How badass? He rapes his own estranged wife, thinking this is reasonable payment for the task at hand – finding his own missing schoolgirl daughter. Otherwise, it’s a Get Carter plot overlaid with an ambience inspired by the 1980s French cinema du look – style is all, visuals have been sweated over, many attractive young women are on display. And as with the cinema du look, there’s a Beatrice Dalle-like crazy bohemian chick at the centre, in this case it’s the cop’s daughter herself (Nana Komatsu), a wayward young miss whose exact crimes and misdemeanours have to be disentangled from the various unreliable accounts of her actions. Watch this for its technical bravado – not just the way Nakashima collages together styles (drug sequences go all trippy, there are diversions into anime) – but the way he can hold onto many points of view. At one point the story is coming at us from five, six, seven, eight points of view – in rapid edits, and yet all is entirely comprehensible. Bravura stuff. And Nakashima’s use of 1970s soul and the throwaway suggestion that this is all set in some alternative universe existing only in a film-maker’s imagination, that’s fairly brilliant too. Again, not for the squeamish.
Life Feels Good (Matchbox, cert 15)
In a dramatisation of a true story, Dawid Ogrodnik plays Mateusz, the Polish guy born with cerebral palsy, who grows up aware of the world around him but treated as a “vegetable” by the outside world and, to an extent, even by members of his own family. Not his parents, who shower him with love and devotion. We follow Mateusz from infancy to full maturity, hoping along the way that it isn’t going to turn into My Left Foot, because we’ve seen that story before. And it doesn’t, though Ogrodnik should win some sort of Daniel Day Lewis award for his performance as the locked-in Mateusz, the only sign of whose florid inner life is his sexual fixation on women’s breasts. By turns tragic, funny, wistful, frustrating and just plain gripping, Life Feels Good avoids the many emotional traps of this sort of film, largely by focusing on specific details of the period – 1980s Poland still locked in the Communist era to the current time with all the blandishments and perils of free-market Europe. And it avoids easy do-gooding too – there are people out to use Mateusz for their own confused ends, such as the volunteer visitor at the hospital who shows him her bosom and winds up engaged to be married to Mateusz. Cue much pursing of lips by his parents and hers. Feelgood shot through with grit. Exploitational but it’s earned it.
Embrace of the Serpent (Peccadillo, cert 12)
Like watching Apocalypse Now, but from the point of view of a local native, Embrace of the Serpent is a heart of darkness journey up the Amazon. Except it’s two journeys, 30 years apart. The first follows Theo (Jan Bivoet), all a-jitter like Ben Gunn as he “opens up” the region to the white man as he’s taken up river by be-loinclothed pudding-bowl-coiffed native Karamakate (Nibio Torres). The second follows a similarly bearded, though less wild-eyed white man (Brionne Davis) as he’s taken up the same river by the same man (now played by Antonio Bolivar) decades later. Compare and contrast is the idea, and the comparisons aren’t in the white man’s favour as director Ciro Guerra pulls incidents from actual diaries of the era (1900-ish, then 1930 or so) and points, like one of Scrooge’s ghosts, at the devastation wrought by the blundering incomer, who has no idea of the fine balance he’s upsetting – the Christian mission turns from a place of brutal but ordered severity to the site of a gabbling murder cult, for instance. Apart from one hallucinogenic sequence, the whole thing is in black and white, the better to capture the spirit of old photos of the time. It’s more subtle than you might expect, less white-is-bad dogmatic than you might expect too – both sides are out for what they can get, but the power relations are heavily stacked. This is anthropology, for sure, but it’s not entirely the brown-skins who are under examination.
Summertime (Curzon, cert 15)
If Jean de Florette were remade as a lesbian drama, it might look like Summertime. It tells of pretty farmer’s daughter Delphine (Izïa Higelin) heading off to Paris in the heady early 70s, meeting chic Parisian political firebrand Carole (Cecile De France), falling for her, then attempting to continue the relationship back at the farm in rural Nowheresville. It does not go well, but it does at least not go well with buckets of sunshine spilling through the fields, in a world where farmwork seems to consist largely of pitchforking sheaves of hay off a tractor and up into a hayloft. It is all a bit unspeakably backlit, and there’s no hint of sweat, grime or chaff spiking the pink bits as the ladies get it on most tastefully, director Catherine Corsini clearly being of the opinion that if she can just make it look nice fewer people will get upset. Heroic crusading lesbians going it alone in the teeth of fierce opposition is the idea. Snipes to one side, it is very pretty, beautiful in fact, with fabulous acting (look at Noémie Lvovsky, as the farmer’s-wife mother to Delphine) that’s almost obscured by the picturesqueness. Lovely, if a touch predictable.
A Hologram for the King (Icon, cert 12)
A Hologram for the King is directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), who is too cerebral for Hollywood, and stars Tom Hanks, who’s clearly no dunce. Together they tell the story of the slightly superannuated salesman (Hanks) sent to an Emirates state, where he’s to sell a software system (or something) to Sheikh McGuffin, or whatever his name is. On this hot, sandy armature Tykwer, Hanks and Dave Eggers (on whose book it’s based) hang a fish-out-of-water essay on globalisation and the decline of the West, a straight-out “dine beneath the stars with the Bedouin” travelogue – of the sort you might buy in the lobby of any UAE hotel – and a cross-cultural romance, between Hanks, suffering with a lump on his back (never described as the white man’s burden, though that is what it is) and the pretty doctor (Sarita Chowdhury) who treats it and who happens, wouldn’t you know it, to be just at the last knockings of an exhausting divorce and in need of the ministrations of a good man. That’s a lot of meat, salad and pickles to pack into any shawarma and the filling, tasty though it is, does come spilling out from all directions. Extending the metaphor beyond the advisable, Hanks plays the garlic/chilli sauce that’s meant to bind it all together into a tasty whole. He can’t quite manage it, but that’s because the task is beyond the human. Strangely, though it doesn’t work on any level, it’s entirely enjoyable, not least because Tykwer makes it all, as he generally does, look beautiful, clean and crystal sharp.
Gridlocked (Kaleidoscope, cert 18)
Party like it’s 1989 with this guiltily enjoyable action meatfest, starring mechanically recovered Dominic Purcell as a special-ops beef mountain caught up in a shitstorm when he goes back to visit his old fellow badasses, having taken along with him for the ride a Hollywood brat (Cody Hackman – is that even a real name?) as part of some penal restitution program the actor has volunteered for rather than spend time inside. Big breath. That’s a familiar sounding 1980s premise, and this film keeps it coming with a cast list including Vinnie Jones, retired WWE fighter Trish Stratus (doing Aliens-lesbian-chick-with-big-gun stuff), an extended cameo by Danny Glover who reminds us that Lethal Weapon is responsible for quite a lot (does he utter the “too old for this shit” line? – I cannot divulge) and a DP (Pasha Patriki) who loves blue and orange gels. And who didn’t back in the day? The writing is a bit pants, bobbins even, but director Alan Unger – he of Relentless, Mancode, Pinned, movies named after failed downmarket man-scent – knows his way around a camera and an edit suite and delivers some good hollow gruesome laughs, the best one at the expense of Jones. You could probably make one of these at home yourself, by taking bits of the Lundgren/Van Damme/Seagal oeuvre and shaking them up in a bag. Subtle as a full-frontal lobotomy, the enjoyment comes from trying to work out whether we are laughing at Purcell and crew, or whether they are laughing at us.
© Steve Morrissey 2016